Monday, February 11, 2008

In the Land of the Blind

Soft power. What can you do with soft power? Is there even such a thing? Sounds like a marginal tumescence. Oh darling, you're so spongy! And this is what Europe, old New Europe, imagines will keep it safe? Geo-economics over geopolitics? Robert Kagan says it true: "Europe's nightmares are the 1930s; Russia's nightmares are the 1990s. Europe sees the answer to its problems in transcending the nation-state and power. For Russians, the solution is in restoring them."

It's called being too clever for your own good. Getting all the theoretical ducks in a row, while forgetting that there are real shotguns in the world. Throughout the '90s, while Europe was busy turning itself into one gigantic Switzerland, all about money, Russian democracy was miscarrying itself. All those wonderful sentiments about freedom and opportunity turned out to be inconsonant with the comfort that stultifying Communist bureaucracy brought. Not every heart, it now becomes clear, yearns for freedom. That conceit is another of those mere theories about human nature that intellectuals and other fools like me please themselves by propounding in oh so convincing a manner. Passion sound convincing. But, for life, certainty is more necessary than freedom.

Europe slashed its defense spending. Such an action was ever so safe. What enemy was there, after all, in the Nineties? Can you name one? No, you can't. Nobody can. There were no enemies. There were only small, insignificant, localized conflicts. A lot of carnage in Africa, but who cares about Africa. Some weird stuff in the Balkans or where ever -- that Kosovo dog that clinton wagged. We didn't even argue about elections in the Nineties -- you know it's true. We all wanted clinton so very much. I mean, we ran Dole, didn't we.

Well, that's the point. There are challenges that aren't obvious. Just necessary to see. That's how we judge the wisdom and success of our leaders, to misuse the word. But the word is accurate in a sense -- after all, some lemming must be out front. That's a sort of leadership. For those among our ranks who desire a long and prosperous life, however, we must require more from our leaders than present comfort. Thus, Europe might have looked to its own security, rather than trusting to the benevolence of distant and despised America. Our bases, after all, need not always be there. There might come a time when we finally consider it in our own best interest to shore up our own tilting buttresses.

Now Russia is returning to its former ways. Democracy, such as it has been, has failed. Failed again. It's only fitting. There is hardly any nation more conservative than Russia. For a thousand years it had only two ruling houses, Rurik and Romanov. How very predictable that it should revert again to some caesar of a Csar, either a returned prince, or a third House, of, say, Putin. And as we know, empires are built on conquest. There it is, Europe, spread out like a pampered hog, awaiting the finely honed blades of Russia's double-headed ax.

Yes, I'm catastrophising. Of course I am. It's what I do. Very irresponsible of me. I'm a regular Chicken Little, always clucking over dangers that no one else could ever see. After all, nowadays empires are formed by committee. Bureaucrats gather together in The Hague or Jedda or Tehran and gentlemenly agree upon the obverse design of the latest conjoined currency. What danger, from any direction? It is summertime, and we must celebrate the season with dancing and much music. No dark thunderheads from the brooding Urals can shadow our merriment. Our leaders lead the rondo with a merry fiddling tune. How gay.

What peril? "After a decade of voluntary retreat, Russia now pushes back against Europe's powerful attractive force, using traditional levers of power. It has imposed a total embargo on trade with Georgia. It has episodically denied oil supplies to Lithuania, Latvia and Belarus; cut off gas supplies to Ukraine and Moldova; and punished Estonia with a suspension of rail traffic and a cyber-attack on its government's computer system in a dispute over a Soviet war memorial. It supports separatist movements in Georgia and keeps its own armed forces on Georgian territory and in Moldova. It has effectively pulled out of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, freeing it to deploy forces wherever necessary on its western flank."

No one holds a grudge like a Russian. No one wishes their neighbor more ill. There's a venerable Russian story, to just this effect. It seems an angel visited a kulak -- let's call him Ivan -- and offered to grant him any one of his heart's desires. Imagine how great was Ivan's joy. But then the angel added that, whatever he asked for, his neighbor would be given the same thing, twice over. Ivan's brow grew dark and he fell silent. Then a sly smile twisted his lip. "Grant me," said Ivan, "that I be blind in one eye."


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